Salt Bearer

a shadow from the past
cast upon a new life
a dream in the shape of you
ashes and dust be gone

exorcise this demon
feasting on the soul
crammed within Pandora’s box
left to be forgotten

haunting the mind
brushing up against the landscape
leaving your scent behind
a lingering trail of memory

like a slug
leaving mucous in its wake
tainting the path
with residue – a sticky slime

tracking your every move
we come with salt and lime
shriveling and poisoning
at once existence to nothingness

 

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What I Know of Leaves

As a child, I loved autumn – the fallen leaves, raked in piles on my lawn with their musty scent always thrilled me. I remember my Dad and I raking the leaves from around the entire yard to create the largest mound possible before plunging into the mountainous pile.

I still find great pleasure in the autumn leaves, but I haven’t jumped into a pile of them in quite some time. Perhaps I need to do that again. But these days I find myself admiring the colors and shapes of leaves. I enjoy the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet as I cross the lawn and I still love their earthy scent. I enjoy watching the squirrels scamper through them as they seek to hide their treasures.

I think the leaves are my favorite part of the season. They seem to pair nicely with jeans, hooded sweatshirts, and hiking boots.

Upon the wind, they gather and play
dancing and swirling as though
they were a sign of youth and vigor
instead of the dying of another season.

Laying one upon the other
Shifting and stirring,
rustling with
each footfall and breath of the Earth.

Hues changing, ripening
with intense beauty and fading
into the background with age.

Fighting the Inbox

a to-do list a mile long
emails pouring in
each one adding
to the already overwhelming pile
of things that must be done

every day I fight this inbox
whittling away at each new task
only to return and find
more email in the box

time should come with
buttons,
pause, stop. rewind

I often think of the absurdity
that someday I will be dead
and those emails will likely still pour in
at least then I won’t have to dig myself out
from beneath the ever-deepening pile

Cosmic Spider

She weaves a universal web
connecting stars, sun, and moon.
Silky ties to a world beyond ourselves.

We’re connected just as the galaxies
hold together with invisible strands.
If we trace our web through
time and space –
we find our past, present, and future
along its course.

This is how our lives become
so entangled as to depend
upon each other.

Casting out lines,
in hopes of snagging
tiny bits of intimacy
another soul’s connection
hanging by a thread.

We dangle there
frozen in time until
the ripples of contact subside.

That which we catch
can destroy all we’ve built,
or nourish our souls –
weaving the tapestry of life.

We are mere fractals
of our cosmic spider
as she devours us
one by one.

“No, the shirts are for me.”

When it comes to clothing, I’m all about comfort over fashion -quite frankly, I wouldn’t know fashion if it bit me in the ass. If it were solely up to me, I would wear jeans and a t-shirt every day of my life. I’ve recently discovered the joys of yoga pants too, but that’s a whole different story. When I die, at my viewing, I want to be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt; I mean, why change at that point? Hell, if I could go back and do it again, I’d probably wear jeans and a t-shirt to my wedding. You get the point.

I walk a fine line when it comes to dressing professionally for work. If I have to dress up, I want to be comfortable. Men’s dress shirts tend to work well for me; they’re dressy enough for work, but make me feel casual.

This morning I was out running some last minute back-to-school errands, and I decided to pop in at a local discount department store thinking I might be able to find some new shirts. I went through the women’s section and didn’t see anything I cared for, so I went to the men’s section and found short sleeve button up shirts in my size, and in colors I like. Score!

I proceed to the checkout. I make small talk with the female cashier. And then she says, “are you back to school shopping for your son, or shopping for your husband?”

I hesitated a moment and then replied, “for my husband.” And with those words, I knew I’d be coming home to write an analysis of this incident.

(On a side note, she then responded with, “like a good wife should! Men can’t shop for themselves; well, they can, but…” I know, I know, so much gold to mine there for commentary! I feel the need to apologize to my male friends just for relaying this deeply flawed stereotype.)

Her question had caught me off guard, and I’d lied out of laziness. I didn’t feel like explaining. But why would I feel the need to explain? I could have just said, “no, the shirts are for me.” Simple as that. But that’s not what I did. Am I ashamed of wearing men’s shirts? No, obviously not if I wear them regularly to work. I simply wanted to get the hell out of there.

I know this cashier meant well; she was just trying to be conversational which if you know me, can be awkward enough (see last sentence of above paragraph).  At first, I wasn’t as disturbed by her question as I was about my inability, to be honest. But the more I think about it; I feel equally disturbed by the entirety of the conversation. And what the hell is this “good wife” bullshit? My husband can and does shop for himself and does just fine, thank you. Not to mention she must have thought I looked old enough to have a son wearing 2xl men’s dress shirts! WTF?!

I don’t usually tend to think of myself as “gender nonconforming,” but if you feel the need to put a label on it, there it is. My family referred to me a “tomboy” growing up. All I know is that I like to wear whatever makes me comfortable, and in this case, it’s men’s dress shirts.  I have on occasion walked into a department store, gone directly to the men’s section to get what I wanted, paid for it, and walked out – short, and sweet, and to the point – the way I prefer to shop.

And then I consider my male friends, the ones who don’t necessarily conform to gender stereotypes. What must it be like for them? In all the times I’ve bought men’s clothes, up until today, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about it, but I get the sense that a man browsing the women’s section or seen purchasing women’s clothes would automatically be assumed to be shopping for his wife.

Gender stereotypes are still the norm in our society. As a society, these stereotypes serve no real purpose but are difficult to break free from and so they persist. I failed to do my part today in working for change, but I hope if the opportunity ever presents itself again that I will conscientiously decide to take up the torch and help burn down those stereotypes down. And maybe, if enough people make that conscientious decision, gender stereotypes will cease to exist.

 

 

 

 

 

End of (my) summer reflection…

It’s that time of year again, for me anyway, when I start back to school (work). So I thought it would be good to take some time to reflect on my summer and my thoughts about the upcoming school year.

My summer started out with me feeling vaguely apathetic towards the break. I am usually much more excited to escape the daily rhythms of life as a teacher. The idea alone of sleeping in is enough to bring a smile to my face – hey, getting up at 5:30 a.m. gets tougher the older I get. However, this year I’d managed spontaneously to decide that I wanted to take a position as summer camp director for a nature camp. At the time, it seemed liked a fantastic idea. I’d get to spend time in nature, have some structured activity to my summer, and earn some extra money. But as summer approached I became extremely apprehensive about the prospect of giving up three weeks of my “me time,” the idea that I would be in charge of 35 children and a few teenage volunteer counselors, and that a whole host of horrendous trauma inducing events could potentially occur to myself or the children I was in charge of. (Yes, my anxiety was highly involved with my imagination pertaining to the potential traumas, but that didn’t make them any less real in MY mind.)

As so often happens with my well-intentioned spontaneity, I had begun to regret my decision. What had I gotten myself into? Surely someone was going to suffer a broken bone on my watch, or worse yet, a fishhook injury the likes of which the world had never seen before, or even a snake bite, and don’t get me started on the thought that some child might wander off and drown in the lake. Aaaakk! I couldn’t handle the pressure (self-imposed, yes, but still), how was I ever going to be able to do this?

My first week off from school I spent preparing for the following week that would be the first week of nature camp. I had plenty of activities planned. The campground owner thought I had great ideas, and things would go very well. I wasn’t convinced, but I was going through with it, ready or not.

The first week of camp was a good week. Everything went well, and there were only two bloody noses the whole week. I can handle bloody noses. As long as it isn’t my blood, I’m usually good to go.

After the first week of camp, I had a week to myself to decompress. It was a relief to have made it through the first week of nature camp, and I felt more prepared for the remaining two weeks I’d have later in July.

Then there was a week of vacation with my husband at Rehoboth Beach. Vacation was good though my moods fluctuated frequently. You never think of anxiety and depression fucking with your vacation time – a time when you’re supposed to be relaxing and having fun – but mental illness doesn’t give a shit about that sort of thing, it does what it wants when it wants. Despite that, we still managed to eat several delicious meals out, enjoy kayaking, take two boat rides (an eco tour and a sunset cruise), take a day trip to Assateague, see two plays at the local theater, have dinner with friends, and take two separate nature/bird watching hikes. All in all, we still had a great time.

Upon returning from vacation, I had a week to prepare for the next two weeks of nature camp and the arrival of my two younger cousins. They were going to be visiting and helping me as camp counselors. I was extremely glad to have their company and their help.

The final two weeks of nature camp went fairly well. Only one small glitch with an unhappy parent caused me a significant deal of stress and anger, but in the end, things worked out. I managed to please the majority of campers and their parents who were supportive and kind. I even managed to have some fun in the process.

Looking back on the camp director experience, I think it went well overall; however, I would hesitate to do something of that nature again. On the other hand, it was wonderful to have my teenage cousins visit for two weeks. And we’ve made tentative plans for a visit again next summer.

Following the camp experience, my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary with a trip to Cape May, NJ. It was an amazing weekend getaway! We went to a crab and beer festival, took an ecological boat tour, did a small bit of hiking (it was exceedingly hot), and again enjoyed some amazing food.

The past two weeks have provided me with some down time for which I am extremely thankful. I’ve spent my days wandering local parks, taking pictures, reading, and writing. I’ve visited all of my favorite downtown coffee shops and just generally had time to mentally relax and feel like I’ve had some much desired time to myself. All topped off with a visit from my mom this weekend and a trip to the Mt. Gretna Arts Festival.

I went into my summer rather apprehensive about what was in store for me, but looking back (as is usually the case), I didn’t need to be so worried. I’m very grateful for the summer that I’ve had.

A lesson I should currently be applying to my impending school year; I’d like to say that I will, but I know myself better than that. There will be anxiety. There will be stress (self-imposed and otherwise). And there will be challenges. And even though I know that I am strong and capable of handling all of that…it still worries me.

I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights, and I’ve had several stress-dreams, so this afternoon I’m doing something special for myself. I’m going for a massage. I haven’t had a massage since our honeymoon ten years ago, and I’m excited by this opportunity.

So here’s to the new school year:  may it be filled with fun, amazing students, opportunities for growth, and a sense of fulfillment.

 

 

 

Hippocamp 2016

​For the second year in a row, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference. And for the second year in a row, I’ve left the conference inspired and filled with ideas. It was wonderful to find myself surrounded by like-minded creative individuals – my tribe.

And it’s this “I’ve found my tribe” feeling that captivates me the most. The feeling of homecoming and belonging that pervades at Hippocamp allows even me, the semi-introverted anxiety ridden poet, to vacate my shell at least temporarily. I love the fact that I frequently found myself in breakout sessions with published authors, writing coaches, and literary agents all willing to learn from each other and open to discussing techniques and strategies they’ve found helpful in their writing and publishing careers. It is this willingness to learn and lack of isolating competitive attitude that makes this such a unique and positive experience. Everyone is your peer, and you quickly learn that you all have many of the same doubts and fears when it comes to your writing.

I particularly enjoyed Jenna McGuiggan’s session on The Writing Life: Rituals, Rhythms, & Practices. Instead of espousing the same old prescriptive things you hear so frequently, “you must write daily” “you should set aside a specific time of day to you write,” she gave practical advice that reaffirmed the attendees’ belief in themselves as writers. My favorite take away from her session was to create a ritual rather than a routine for writing. A writing ritual can help put you in the right frame of mind to be able to write whenever you have time whether that means you have specific objects (a special pen or journal) that you always use, or some other sensory stimulation (lighting candles, specific clothing, a cup of tea).

As someone who is easily set in motion by sensory stimuli, I also enjoyed Sarah Einstein’s pre-conference workshop on The Collage Essay. Using various sensory stimuli, Sarah guided us through a writing activity that allowed us to explore a specific theme. I walked away from this workshop with the beginnings of an essay and some constructive suggestions to help me along.

I also had the opportunity for a new first for me after the conference, pitching to an agent; this was an entirely spontaneous venture on my part. I did not go into the conference intending to do anything of the sort, but through the gentle encouragement of several members of my tribe and getting caught ​up in the moment, I decided to go for it. I went into the session with little in the way of expectation (or preparation for that matter). I merely wanted the experience of a live, in-person, pitch. It was terrifying; I won’t lie. And even though my pitch topic wasn’t well aligned with the agent I pitched to (my fault, not anyone else’s), she was able to offer some constructive feedback and was exceedingly kind to me.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending this year’s conference, and I look forward to Hippocamp 2017. ​

#hippocamp16

Fair Warning

Relationships should come with
warning signs,
but what’s the fun in that?

Knowing how it would be
lacks discovery of self and
each other; things you might pass
up if you knew.

Putting our best foot forward
then taking two steps back,
a dance, fluid in motion.

Mistake,learn,and hopefully
forgiveness and redemption;
running away and holding tight

seemingly opposite ends
of the spectrum. Fair warning!

You’ll always be
searching for the right way
to save each other.

#HippoCamp2016

Last August, I had the privilege of being one of the attendees at the very first HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers. I walked away from that conference with inspiration, motivation, ideas and most importantly to me, confidence to tackle things I’d never tried before with my writing. Before HippoCamp I’d never attempted to submit my writing for publication; heck, I didn’t even know where to start with something like that, but I learned how as a result of the conference. The conference also opened my eyes to the literary community in Lancaster; it was alive and thriving and now I am a part of it.

This August, I’m headed back for year two and I can’t wait! I’ve been looking forward to the next HippoCamp all year. If you’re into creative nonfiction, I’d highly recommend this conference.

Please include attribution to http://hippocamp2016.hippocampusmagazine.com with this graphic.

hippocamp16

 

Ships

these small candles
float in a sea of black ink
miles from shore

specks of light
in a night dark world
bobbing with the current

provoking acknowledgment,
our diminutive nature
in contrast to raw power,
the forces of nature

yet humans’ belief
fallible skill and wisdom
attempt to tame and harness
these forces, bend them
as to their will

whether fools or daring
adventurers be,
we embark boldly upon
these small candles
afloat in the sea of night